Tips from the top: What influential business leaders in Edmonton have to say about building & maintaining a meaningful network

Networking is one of those business buzzwords that seem to bring on much more dread than it should. Mention the word in a room and the whole place ices over with impending awkwardness. Really, networking can and should be fun. Especially in a small, growing and supportive business community like Edmonton, networking will be the fuel to your success. It is one of the biggest ways to stimulate growth, initiate development and open up avenues for mutually beneficial partnerships moving forward.

Having the right frame of mind is key. Remember these are real people, with life interests and fascinating stories. They feel just as awkward as you do walking into a room full of strangers, but also want to meet like-minded professionals who care about their industry. With that being said, brushing up on some basic, but sometimes ambiguous rules of the road when it comes to networking can never hurt. To help you out, we have drawn on the wisdom of our network to gather their advice on how to build and maintain a meaningful network in the Edmonton community. Here is what they had to say:

 

Eric Fath-Kolmes, Managerat M31 Design Group

“When approaching someone at a networking event, give the executive summary and let them ask the questions. Know your audience and bring it up to people who are going to be interested, but keep it short. In the days that follow, when you start that connection, be persistent on it. Especially with the busy lives that people live. The follow up is the most important part, so be prompt. Find the balance between bombardment and maintaining contact.”

“When it comes to going to networking events, if you really go to the right ones for your industry, you’ll end up seeing the same people all the time. That is not a bad thing; it’s a good thing. Catch up, find out what’s been going on with people and make a point of going to regular events in your industry. Even if these people never end up as clients, they can give you insight into how to run your business and offer valuable tech/sales techniques.”

 

Kevin Uebelein, CEOat Alberta Investment Management Corporation

“When it comes to networking, what stands out most are those people who use networking as an opportunity to help others build networks, rather than focusing wholly on building their own. These are people who listen a lot more than they talk. When they do speak, they are likely to say something like, “Based on what you said, you should get to know Janet or John. I can introduce them to you…”

“I’m happy to say I’ve encountered a lot of these types of people here in Edmonton – people who are asking me about how they can help me and my wife, Laura, become integrated in the community. These are the sorts of people with whom you truly want to work. Much like what it takes to be a good investor, effective networking takes a long-term view.”

Introduction: “The best way for someone to introduce themself, beyond sticking to the basics, is to identify and articulate the context or connections that may make being known relevant. Again, this requires at least an equal amount of listening. Saying, “Hi, I’m Amanda, I work at XYZ company,” is good. Much better would be, “Hi, I understand your firm has used XYZ company as a consultant. I’m Amanda and I’ve been working there since last year. I think you may know my boss…”

Follow Up: “I think the strongest follow up is by offering something of potential interest to the other person, not by asking for something. It could be sharing a research paper or offering to introduce them to someone who might be valuable to them. It might be simply to offer them a coffee or lunch to get to know them better. And, if such a follow up offer goes unanswered (with perhaps one nudge in case the person is forgetful, like I am), one should move on. Never pester.”

 

Christophe Delmotte, Executive Manager at Gunnebo Security

“With my international experience of connection and networking all over the world, I do believe that in our beautiful Albertan province, networking is a long game and you need to be in the right circles of connections to meet with your contacts again and again. Even if you bring them all what they may look for, it takes numerous meetings, connections and time to build the trust in the new “relationship’ you are trying to establish. But when you are really connected and not only “networked,” it opens up a lot more opportunities. So choose wisely which events to attend, as well as where and with who you want to network with, to bring the most return on your connections. And, never miss any opportunities. I find SPA/racing track pits/airport lounges/stadiums for sport events are some of the best (uncommon) places to network!”

 

Sharon Johnson, Managerat Sabre Insurance

“I like to be approached with direct eye contact so you know someone is coming in contact with you. They need to introduce themself with a smile and open hand for a handshake. If you are in the market for a new car and greeted by the local sales person at the dealership, that person has to market himself so you will buy from him. Appearance, facial expressions, body language, handshake, how engaging they are and ability to listen to what you want are some of the qualities that a person will have to possess if he is going to make a sale.”

Social Media vs. Face-To-Face Networking: “[LinkedIn] is a great way to find new business contacts, but I would say once you establish a connection with someone over LinkedIn you should move over to a more personal platform like email. I have received leads at friends’ barbecues, family reunions and even lineups at our local grocery store. Get off your phone and talk with people! Be engaged in what they do and hopefully they will ask what you do. That is your chance to sell yourself and what you do. If they like you, there will be a connection, business card exchange and follow-up for future business.”

 

Cindy Janisch, Mortgage Associate at The Mortgage Group and Chairpersonat Mayfield Network Group

“I like to keep my networking circle open to new people who walk by, so I am always aware of the movement in the room. If you are in a group of people, you do not want to appear closed, so staying in a horseshoe shape allows for new people to move in and out of the conversation. Introducing yourself and others that you are with helps to break the ice and start good conversations. Keep on top of the latest media in your area, as well as sports scores or events, so that you can be prepared for general conversations that will break the ice.”

“Social media is a huge requirement now when networking. Most people Google names of business professionals or creep on their LinkedIn profile to see who they’re dealing with. It is not just employers doing background checks; it is everyone from the person you hire to do your landscaping to your kids’ soccer coach. Social media is a big platform and it is smart to keep your profiles up to date and active. I usually prefer to use my personal email when communicating with people, but I have a lot of points of contact from prospective clients who have located me on LinkedIn and sent me a personal message.”

“As a small business owner, you are always thinking of your business, so having the ability to network at your local coffee shop, gym or grocery store is key. You want to make people aware of who you are and what you do so that when the time comes that they need that service they can ask you. Also, it is very important to show people that you have strong connections, so, even if they are not in the market for a mortgage, most people know that I can refer them to a good realtor or home inspection person.”

“In-person networking is very important. You can do this by attending regular clubs, such as breakfast networking clubs, Toastmasters, Rotary clubs or even events on Meetup. This will keep you sharp for working on your pitch, perfecting your introductions, expanding your database and possibly finding someone who is key to the success of your business.”

 

Josh Spurrell, President at Spurrell & Associates Chartered Accountant

“My primary means of maintaining my network is through LinkedIn. I spent a couple of days setting this up when I started my practice. I feel it’s an excellent way for people to get to know you and for you to research those you plan to do business or network with. Once you have it set up, you can maintain it with a fairly limited time commitment.”

 

Marie Gervais, E-Learning Expert at Shift Management

It works like this: you look for events, groups of people or individuals who are part of the businesses or organizations you want to be a part of. You find this from professional and industry associations, industry events, networking events and LinkedIn, Meetup and Twitter. Then, once you know where to find people and have set yourself up to go meet them, you use a variety of strategies to get to know individuals and build up a “rolodex” of contacts you can call or email for a variety of professional reasons. The network takes work. Just remember that what you do for your network, your network will do for you. It is a mutually beneficial relationship. [In networking], each circumstance requires a slightly different approach, but all networking has a particular order that needs to be respected. That order is (as they say in Afghanistan) the principle of “three cups of tea.” Basically, you have to have three interactions with someone before they will “trust,” “buy” or “hire.”

One-On-One Interactions: “This can happen anywhere. You are in a grocery store or movie line up or a coat check line up and you chat with the person in front or behind you. The key to this kind of networking is that you take the time to ask the other person questions and get to know him or her, find out about his or her job, business and interests.”

Small Group Setting: “In this networking opportunity you are in a meeting, at a round table discussion or at a small gathering somewhere. Here you need to show an interest in the group members and quickly find the one or two people in the group you are most likely to want to continue to connect. Not everyone in the group will be your network buddy. Once you have figured out your most likely connection from the conversation, try to break off to a side conversation.”

Networking Event: “You need to modify your three cups of tea principle to suit the environment. First, you might need to meet several people before you actually find someone you want to continue the exchange with. Getting food or a drink is a perfect opportunity to either excuse yourself or interact with someone for the first time. Introduce yourself, shake hands firmly, but not too hard or too soft, smile (men remember this please) and ask something like, “What brings you to this event?” or “How are you enjoying the event so far?” or “Have you attended this event before?” That will get you off to a good start (first cup of tea). Again, show interest in the other person – I can’t stress this enough – and ask questions. Follow the principle of asking more than you tell and of offering to do something for the other party to establish trust and be seen as a valuable person to connect with. Remember to ask for what you want in the third interaction or you will lose your opportunity. To read more on Marie Gervais’ “3 Cups of Tea,” click here.

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